Wall Street must move quickly to improve its automated trading systems and ensure that the rights of individual investors are protected, the head of the General Accounting Office says in written testimony to be delivered to Congress today.
The Oct. 19 stock market plunge exposed widespread problems in the country's stock and futures trading system, Comptroller General Charles Bowsher said in testimony submitted to the House Telecommunications and Finance Subcommittee.
Bowsher is scheduled to testify today. His testimony, based on a preliminary GAO report on the collapse, was obtained in advance by United Press International.
"There is an urgent need for leadership in the private sector, with appropriate involvement by the regulatory authorities," Bowsher said in the testimony.
He cited as particular problems capacity restraints in card printers on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange and the inability of the exchange's specialist system to cope with a flood of sell orders on Black Monday and subsequent sessions.
He offered no solutions to the problems in his testimony but said that GAO will continue to examine them.
Bowsher also called on securities companies to provide more leadership in ensuring that brokers inform small investors of the risks involved in their investments and ensure that high-risk investments such as futures are suitable for their clients before advising them to take positions.
In addition, brokerage houses must ensure that small investors can reach their brokers on difficult days such as Black Monday and that the financial firms have the capacity to execute their trades.
Federal regulators have been swamped with complaints from small investors claiming that brokers led them into inappropriate high-risk investments or that they could not get through to have their trades executed on Black Monday.
"It may be that large institutional investors have inherent advantages ... but these natural advantages should not be amplified by unnecessary limitations on access by individual investors," Bowsher said.
In reviewing the events of Black Monday, Bowsher said the Federal Reserve Board did a good job providing liquidity to the markets during the crisis.
But he said the Fed may face difficulties in the future if Congress abolishes the Glass-Steagall Act, a 55-year-old law that separates commercial from investment banking.
He also said that the growth and links between stock and futures markets have created problems that will require a new regulatory structure within this country and efforts to regulate across national borders.
In the short run, Bowsher called for the creation of coordinated contingency planning in the event of another financial crisis.